I have been thinking about this date almost daily for months. Last July I wrote,
When hundreds of Brown and Black LGBT people went to a nightclub in Orlando last month to celebrate Pride, graduations, new jobs, new loves, recent successes, the weekend, and old times, they had already been taking the pulse of many other possible places to live as large as possible. They knew the atmosphere in their families, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. Some understood themselves to be accepted. Most, however, felt the shift in energy when they wore that shirt, those pants, that haircut. They had negotiated in ways too many to count based on their ability to take the pulse of the spaces in which they tried to live. Unfortunately, they could not ever get it completely right every time. Shade would be thrown, a table turned over, a fist clenched, bullets fired into their skin.
We cannot make an accurate assessment in the places we call home or want to call home, because the exceptional premise under which we labor — that fantasy that our schools are safe, our families are loving, our sanctuaries are holy, and Liberty is ours — requires us to maintain the charade that the pulse in these spaces is normal when in fact our society’s new normal is none of these.
If I cannot reconcile my experience with the narrative of personal freedom, how can young Black and Brown people do so? The floor of the Pulse nightclub shows us the lie for what it is, gives focus to the realities we avoid, and amplifies the cry for justice. The presidential candidate who would have us believe that we can be great again is aligned not with those people on the floor and their families, but with the terrified, divisive, and xenophobic people who prompted the shooter to understand his behavior to be defensible and his own life to be expendable.
Since I wrote this, the candidate whom I reviled has become (though not presidential) President of the United States. From the time of his election until now, news has come out daily of his dealings — many of the them possibly illegal — that challenge human rights and further endanger personal freedoms. His greed and the greed of those around him have sent stock prices to new highs and educational support to new lows. Fiction is increasingly replacing science; tweets, diplomacy.
From a small table right next to where I typically sit to read, the faces of those killed at the Pulse night club and pictured on the cover of People magazine stare up at me. Most days I spend seconds thinking what we have lost in their deaths. I also use their images and stories to prompt a look in the mirror to check if I am looking gay enough. There are times when I see their faces in those of my university students, many about the same age as those who were killed.
Yesterday, at the front steps of the Federal Court House during a demonstration of solidarity with all oppressed peoples, I also felt fear. Would a car plow into us? Would the car that beeped incessantly be signaling support or threat?
I continue to aim toward reconciliation. I enjoy my neighbors’ best wishes for Pride. But from many, many others, I am still waiting to be asked how has it been to be gay today. If they were to do so, I believe I would take our pulse again. And maybe so would they.
3 thoughts on “Taking our pulse, again”
Thank you for this, Gary. The world has become a harder place in the last six months, for everyone, but especially people who experience the horror of violence and discrimination. It is harder to put forth awareness, hope and light. But it is necessary in the face of daily events that affect millions.
I’ve missed your writing, Gary!
I just can’t believe all that has happened in the past year. So much death – on city streets, in movie theaters, in schools, in universities, in drug addiction, in a nightclub, and in countless dark nights of lonely LGBT teenagers for whom death is preferable to go on living… and the country has collectively said via ballot, “We do not care.”
Thanks, Tom. I have missed writing as well, but have found some utility in remaining silent. Even today I could not find my way to write — not really write. That is why I mostly quote myself and add a bit of an update. I have very much been enjoying your writing, however, Tom. Perhaps we should do another writing project!